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Much to laugh and cry at in Papa CJ’s new work, Naked

Stand-up comedian Papa CJ made the transition to theatre with his autobiographical show Naked and had audiences laughing, crying and applauding, from Australia to Scotland.

Written by Dipanita Nath |
Updated: December 23, 2015 11:35:39 am
Papa CJ, stand-up comedian Papa CJ, Naked, Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Shared History Festival, talk Boundaries comedians are slow to cross are those that exist in our own minds, says Papa CJ

There’s much to laugh and cry at in Papa CJ’s new work, Naked. The Delhi-based stand-up comedian pushed up the performance meter by baring his soul — not his skin — in a personal story with a universal relevance. Naked was the first solo by an Indian comedian to be invited to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, it represented India at the Shared History Festival in South Africa, drew a full house every show at Edinburgh Fringe Festival and has been invited to the prestigious Soho Theatre in London. It will also play on Broadway in New York in 2016 while CJ fits in a talk at The India Conference at Harvard Business School. The performer will begin the new year with an India tour of the show. Excerpts from an interview:

Are you enjoying Naked more than your past performances?
The boundary that we, comedians, are slow to cross are the boundaries that exist within our own minds i.e., talking about things that make us uncomfortable. That is what I’m enjoying doing with Naked. Looking inwards and delving deep into chapters of my own life has allowed me to create a show that makes my audience emotionally connect with me in a way that I’ve never witnessed before. I’m really enjoying that connection. Audiences personally identify with the narrative of Naked and, while all of them laugh, some of them cry and a few even walk out looking at their own lives with fresh eyes.

How does the show mark your evolution as an artiste?
I’ve been a stand-up comedian for 11 years. I have performed in stadiums, on a plane, in a bus, on a boat, on a train, at comedy clubs, theatres, universities, hospitals, royal palaces and even a police station. Over time, my humour has become less influenced by the external (politics, news, etc) and more by my feelings and life experiences. Naked is very different to anything I have done before. While comedy forms the bulk of the show, I prefer to call it a multi-genre theatrical production. It has a narrative. Drama, poetry, storytelling, music, dancing, comedy, tragedy and hope are some of the elements that comprise this show. Unlike my usual stand-up, where I am susceptible to getting carried away with audience interaction for ages, in Naked I have to curb that natural instinct a little because I have a story that I’m there to tell.

A common observation has been that Papa CJ picks on his audience a lot. Your comment.
I do admit that I absolutely love spontaneous audience interaction and I do a lot of it in my shows. However, I have a lot of respect for all my audiences and, while I have no problem teasing and embarrassing them in jest, I’m very careful not to be hurtful. There’s a big difference. I have no problem with someone walking out saying that I ‘took their case’ but I never want anyone walking out saying that I hurt them. In my experience, though, most audiences are ready for anything and once they understand that your intentions are to entertain and not offend, they will allow you to play with them. In fact, at my shows, many people come specifically for the crowd interaction and there is a certain percentage of people who come because they want to be picked on. Believe it or not, when my tickets go up on sale, the front row is normally the first to sell out.

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Are there times when the audience makes you laugh instead?
You’ll be surprised at the kinds of things that have happened to me while performing Naked in India. One woman in the audience tried to slip a $100 bill down my pants and another spanked my ass so hard during a show in Chennai that her contact lenses fell out.

Naked will be performed in Bangalore on January 9, Chennai on January 10, Delhi on January 16, Mumbai on January 17, Pune on January 23, Hyderabad on January 24 and Kolkata on January 29. Tickets are priced between Rs 499-2,499 and are available at bookmyshow.com

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